Bipolar UK is working with Mind, Depression Alliance and 45 local groups on Side by Side, a project aiming to improve mental health support. Alice, facilitator of the Rugby Support Group, shares her experience of getting involved:

Side by Side logo

I help with the Bipolar UK Support Group in Rugby. We've only been going for a few months so the group is still in its infancy but we've got off to a very positive start. Prior to this, my nearest group was over 16 miles away - too far for me to travel.

I was wondering whether to contact Bipolar UK about the possibility of setting up a group in my area when I spotted that they had just been allocated funds from the Side by Side project for just that purpose - it seemed like the perfect time to get involved!

Help setting up a support group

I was a bit worried about disclosing [my diagnosis of bipolar] in front of 'real' people. The idea was very daunting. Previously I'd made use of the Bipolar UK eCommunity (where members are anonymous) but I'd never discussed any of my experiences outside of a couple of family members, apart from health professionals.

Helping to set up the Support Group was all smooth sailing! I met with the Bipolar UK Development Officer, who booked the venue and talked me through all the paperwork. She's always on hand for support and guidance! She also put me in contact with my local Mind Peer Support Hub Coordinator, who offers advice and links to other Support Groups.

I enjoy being able to help others and the group brings people together to create meaningful networks. It supports people in finding information that they need so they can move forward confidently and independently in whichever direction they want to. It's great to be involved in something so positive.

Taking on an active role in the group has made me feel much more confident about sharing my diagnosis and talking about how my condition affects me. This has been really helpful, especially at work. It's also helped me to feel more accepting and at peace with who I am.

While I've been promoting the Support Group, I've started to get involved with other organisations, such as Making Space and Healthwatch, which look at how service users can assist in shaping and improving mental health services.

Being part of the Bipolar UK Support Group has made me feel part of something much bigger that I can contribute to as well.

I've met some lovely people through the project who have had very similar experiences to my own. Everyone has lots to give and I learn something new from each session. It's not always about getting or giving advice. It's also about having a safe space to get things off our chest and occasionally sharing a laugh about it all!

Side by Side is gathering evidence from people who use peer support to manage their mental health, to look at why it works and to support its future use. Bipolar UK is working in Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen; Coventry and Rugby, and Middlesbrough and Stockton.